14 Posthumous Shout-Outs to Jack “King” Kirby
1. “Good t’ see ya again, old soljer!”
Twenty years ago today, Jack Kirby — the artist behind Captain America, the Fantastic Four, the New Gods, and so much more — died, leaving the world far richer than when he came into it. And in the years since his death, other comic artists have found ways to show their appreciation for “the King” by writing him or his name into their stories. Case in point: Captain America: The Legend, a 1996 one-shot published just prior to Marvel handing its future movie star over to (shudder) Rob Liefeld for a typically ’90s-style reboot. The book featured a short story set shortly after Cap’s revival in The Avengers #4; after witnessing Cap put the smackdown on a bunch of street thugs, “Jacob Kurtzburg” talks to our hero and helps him come to terms with being a man out of time. (The offscreen “Simon” he’s talking to is Joe Simon, Kirby’s onetime writing partner and the co-creator of Captain America.) It’s a sweet tribute to the man behind the hero, and a reminder that even though Cap was born in a simpler time, he (like his creator) is still very much relevant today.
2. “In the end, the world didn’t need a Superman. Just a brave one.”
One of Kirby’s trademarks was creating heroes and supporting characters that allowed him to inject some of his own personality into his stories. The gruff, New Yawk-accented Benjamin “Thing” Grimm was one obvious example; others included Oberon from Mister Miracle and Dan “Terrible” Turpin, a cigar-chomping, take-no-guff police officer who first appeared in Kirby’s The New Gods in 1971. When Superman: The Animated Series debuted on The WB in 1996, the show’s supporting cast featured Turpin as a Metropolis cop with a chip on his shoulder about the Man of Steel and a face that bore more than a passing resemblance to Kirby. That was no coincidence; as producer Bruce Timm told an interviewer, “The Turpin character in the comics didn’t look anything like Jack, but I decided it would be kind of fun, kind of a little throwaway tribute to Jack, to just make the character look like Jack.” Turpin’s finest moment came during 1998’s two-part “Apokolips… Now!” story, in which Darkseid (another Kirby creation) led his minions on a failed conquest of Earth, and vaporized a defiant Turpin out of spite as he retreated. The episode ends with a funeral for Turpin, complete with a kaddish read by an actual rabbi (reflecting Kirby’s Jewish faith), a gravesite based on Kirby’s real resting place, and guests modeled after Kirby’s creations, friends and admirers. (Even Marvel’s Nick Fury and the Fantastic Four made it into the final scene, though they and others whose likenesses weren’t owned by DC were replaced with anonymous mourners for the DVD.)
3. “That’s what my creations do. They find the humanity in God.”
Without a doubt, Lee and Kirby’s nine-year stint on the Fantastic Four comic was the title’s creative peak, with John Byrne’s run in the 1980s placing a respectable second. Since then, the book has been hit and miss, though writer Mark Waid turned in a half-decent run in the early 2000s that often brought a bit of the metaphysical into the quartet’s adventures. In one storyline, Dr. Doom is up to his old tricks by taking over the Thing’s body, forcing Mr. Fantastic to kill his old friend and travel to the literal afterlife to bring him back. After completing a series of surreal challenges, the team ends up at God’s doorstep in Fantastic Four #511 and walks through the door… only to find the Almighty sitting at his drawing desk and working with his unseen collaborator on his latest designs. “God” then restores everything back to normal with the flick of a pencil (fixing Reed’s melted face, re-encasing Grimm in his Thing body) and sends the team on their way, but not before tossing off a quick sketch for them to remember him by: a sketch of the team looking like their older selves with the caption, “To Be Continued.” Amen to that.
4. Kirby King
True story: when I picked up a DVD of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons at my local big-mart bargain bin for my turtle-obsessed son, the last thing I expected was an episode featuring one of the most heartfelt tributes to Kirby that I’ve ever seen. But it makes sense: Kirby was an artist with a definite sense of why-the-hell-not when it came to coming up with the most outlandish concepts and creations, and it’s no wonder TMNT creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird cited him among their biggest influences. “Kirby King” first appeared in a 1986 TMNT comic as an artist who discovers a magic crystal that brings his imagination to life; the 2003 episode “The King” is based on that story, and finds Donatello and Kirby traveling through a portal to defeat the villains that had taken over the city that King inadvertently created with the odd-looking gemstone attached to his pencil.
5+. Mount Kirby (among other places)
Attaching the names of comic creators to pieces of fictional geography is something that’s done often as a way of honoring those creators and offering comic fans an inside joke. It’s why Robinson Park (after Jerry Robinson, the writer who came up with Robin and the Joker, among many others) is a prominent part of Batman’s Gotham City, a place where you might also find yourself at the corner of Adams and O’Neil on any given night. DC Comics honors Kirby’s contributions to its universe by locating Kirby County and the community of Kurtzberg just outside of Metropolis; meanwhile, the Kurtzberg Memorial Hospital is a secret hospital for the creatures and super heroes that pop up in titles starring the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But as far as geographical honors go, it doesn’t get much bigger (literally) than Mount Kirby, the massive mountain that looms high over Astro City. Kurt Busiek’s phenomenal city of superheroes and civilians just trying to make a living is bursting at the seams with buildings, neighborhoods and roads named after past comic-book greats (if you’re in the city’s Chesler district, you might take the Shuster Expressway to Caniff International Airport). Given Kirby’s contributions to the comic book industry, it’s only fitting that Mount Kirby (home of “The First Family,” a pastiche of the Fantastic Four) occupies the most space on the map.
6. “In the world of ideas, there ain’t no hands. There’s only mind. The creations can just pour out of me.”
Alan Moore’s name is almost as revered as Kirby’s among many comic collectors, but even he bowed in deference to Kirby’s imagination and influence. In an interview published in The Jack Kirby Collector in 2000, Moore talked about how getting an issue of Fantastic Four #3 as a child made him a Kirby fan for life: “There’s something about the dynamism of Kirby’s storytelling. You never even think of it as an influence. It’s something that you grew up with, kind of understanding that this is just the way that comics were done.” Moore paid homage to Kirby’s influence with a six-part story, “The Return,” during his run on Supreme, a tale in which the titular character investigates a mysterious citadel that appears out of nowhere and finds a collection of characters all based on Kirby creations (a New York kid gang with a costumed protector, a colony of godlike beings, a group of grizzled multi-ethnic soldiers, etc.). Supreme then meets the, well, supreme creator of the place, who turns out to be Kirby — or to be more specific, it’s a gigantic floating head created from a montage of images clearly intended to form a Kirbyesque visage, right down to his trademark cigar. “It’s havin’ hands, they slow you down,” the giant head says. “Now, in the world of ideas, there ain’t no hands. There’s only mind. The creations can just pour out of me.” Only the mental essence of Jack Kirby would ever think his mortal form didn’t create characters fast enough.
7. “I like the mural, by the way. It’s a King, isn’t it?”
Speaking of Moore, his 1999 series Top 10 can be best described as “every superhero comic you ever read meets Hill Street Blues.” The title follows the cases and personal lives of superhero police officers in a city where literally everyone is a superhero (or a god, or a robot, or take your pick). The lobby of the Tenth Precinct (affectionately known as “Top 10”) features a giant mural that depicts fallen officers from the precinct that are clearly drawn in a style meant to represent classic Kirby archetypes. This is confirmed in the series’ tenth issue, when a visiting dignitary notes the mural is by an artist named “King.”
8. “The entire place was designed by this reclusive genius named Kurtzburg. Mad as a hatter.”
Then there are the more throwaway — but no less winking — references to Kirby, like this scene in Darwyn Cooke’s DC: The New Frontier #5, in which Rocky Davis of the Challengers of the Unknown (another Kirby original) escorts Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen on a tour of the team’s mountain headquarters, taking a moment to comment on the mental state of the building’s architect…
9. The Kurtzberg Field
…or this reference in DC’s 1997 Genesis mini-series to the “Kurtzberg Field,” an interstellar radiation field that’s “always at a constant, stable level” except when it fluctuates due to an outside source of unknown energy acting upon it (“discovered by Prof. Kurtzberg in 1937” is a sly reference to the year Kirby saw his first professional work published)…
10. “Benjamin Kirby Tennyson! Don’t even think about it!”
…or the middle name of a young boy who discovers an alien artifact that allows him to transform into various super-powered aliens, many of whom bear a striking resemblance to the types of creatures Kirby was known to toss into any given issue of Kamandi or Devil Dinosaur (the show also has a bunch of Kirby Dots appear against a green background during most of Ben’s transformations)…
11. Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg and Holliway
…and here, in She-Hulk’s 2004 series, where the law firm employing our jade giantess/crusading attorney is named Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg and Holliway, after Marvel founders Martin Goodman, Stan Lee (under his birth name Stanley Lieber) and Kirby (the fourth senior partner, Holden Holliway, is the fictional gentleman who invited She-Hulk’s civilian identity to join the firm).
12. Dr. Jacob Krigstein (The Authority)
While his last name sounds like a nod to Bernard Krigstein, the artist whose innovative designs graced many legendary EC stories in the 1950s, the character’s first name and back story make it pretty clear for whom Mark Millar intended the shout-out. In the Wildstorm universe, Dr. Krigstein is a brilliant intellectual hired by President Eisenhower in the 1950s to create and train super-soldiers during the Cold War, but he was dismissed as a crank in the 1980s; after the fall of the Berlin Wall, he went into hiding to develop plans for creating super-beings unlike anything anyone has ever seen. By the early 21st century, he re-appeared with his creations intending to correct the mistakes he saw being committed by The Authority. According to Authority member The Engineer, Krigstein (the man whom we’re told is blessed with “the most powerful imagination in the world”) probably would have “created all your favorite comic book characters if he hadn’t been snapped up by Eisenhower at the end of the [Second World] war.” Kirby as a government-paid creator of real-life superheroes? The heart leaps and shudders at the thought.
13. Greg Bendian’s Requiem for Jack Kirby
Kirby’s influence over the comic medium — particularly the way his tropes and poses became the de facto way of depicting most comic-book adventures — is so pervasive that it’s no surprise the shout-outs to his legacy aren’t confined to just comics and cartoons. In 2002, jazz percussionist Gregg Bendian released Requiem for Jack Kirby, a seven-track CD inspired by Kirby’s art and storytelling featuring such instrumental cuts as “Kirby’s Fourth World,” “The Mother Box” and “Air Above Zenn-La.” Avant-garde, unpredictable and “dead-on evocative of Kirby’s grotesque otherworlds” were some of the words used by reviewers discussing the album, with one reviewer saying it was a fitting tribute to Kirby as the music captures his spirit: “imaginative, spacious, intense-free jazz/rock journeys, all paired with a quirky sense of melody.” Come for the be-bopping melodies, stay for the cover and liner art that would make a Kirbyphile wish we were still in the age of vinyl LPs.
14. Crimson Tide (1995)
Lieutenant Commander Ron Hunter: Rivetti, what’s up?
Petty Officer First Class Danny Rivetti: I’m sorry, sir. It’s just a difference of opinion that got out of hand.
Hunter: What about?
Rivetti: It’s really too silly to talk about, sir. I’d really just forget about–
Hunter: I don’t give a damn about what you’d rather forget about. Why were you two fighting?
Rivetti: I said the Kirby Silver Surfer was the only real Silver Surfer. And that the Moebius Silver Surfer was shit. And Bennefield’s a big Moebius fan. And it got of hand. I pushed him. He pushed me. I lost my head, sir. I’m sorry.
Hunter: Rivetti, you’re a supervisor. You can get a commission like that. [snaps finger]
Rivetti: I know, sir. You’re 100 per cent right. It will never happen again.
Hunter: It better not happen again. If I see this kind of nonsense again, I’m going to write you up, you understand?
Rivetti: [No answer]
Hunter: Do you understand?
Rivetti: Yes, sir.
Hunter: You have to set an example even in the face of stupidity. Everybody who reads comic books knows that the Kirby Silver Surfer is the only true Silver Surfer. Now am I right or wrong?
Rivetti: You’re right, sir.
Hunter: Now get out of here.
Rivetti: Yes, Sir.
Goddamn right, Denzel.